Thursday, November 27, 2014

Deficient in Intellect, or Interpretation?

"Women are deficient in intellect." These words, quoted from a famous hadith, have been gleefully used by many Muslim men to demean and belittle women, implying that they are, by nature, inferior.
It is sad that the majority of English translations and explanations (especially the latter) regarding this hadith have an overtly negative attitude, even aggressive in some cases.

Yet when one reads the original Arabic text, and searches for other classical explanations – such as that of Qadhi `Iyadh – a different picture is painted, one which reflects not negativity, but positivity.
The key phrase that we will look at here is the following:

"Ma ra'aytu min Naqisati `Aqlin wa deen aghlabu li dhee lubbin minkun"
 "In spite of your lacking in wisdom and failing in religion, you are depriving the wisest of men of their intelligence." (

 "I have seen none lacking in common sense and failing in religion but (at the same time) robbing the wisdom of the wise, besides you."(

 "I have not seen anyone more deficient in intellect or deen. Yet the mind of even a resolute man might be swept away by one of you."(
 "I have never seen among those who have a deficiency in their intellect and their religion anyone more capable than women of swaying the intellect of the most determined of men."(

The differences in these translations – and the connotations that come along with the words used – is quite clear. The first two are quite harsh, and a jumping board for those explanations which go into detail about how women are weak, lacking, and inferior in intelligence.

The second two are slightly more ambivalent, less condemning, as it were. Even so, in English – and, I would suspect, most languages – there is very little explanation of this phrase (and indeed, the entire hadith itself) that doesn’t come off as an excuse or justification for the horrific misogyny that has permeated our Ummah.

What is a better explanation for this hadith, then?

In Ikmaal al-Mu’lim bi Fawaa’id Muslim (a commentary on Saheeh Muslim) by Qadhi ‘Iyadh, he discusses this hadith carefully.

To begin with, a small but significant detail in the hadith has been glossed over by many.
When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) approached the believing women to impress upon them the importance of giving sadaqah and saying istighfaar (praying for forgiveness), one of those women spoke up.

Qadhi `Iyadh takes the time to speak about this woman – in the Arabic text, she is described as "imra’atun jazlatun."

What does "jazlah" mean? Another analysis of the hadith[1] defines "jazlah" as: "thaat al-‘aql, ra’iyy, waqaar" ; meaning, someone with intelligence, with an opinion based upon reason and rationale, and respect.

This "imra’atun jazlah" was not merely content to hear this statement, but wanted to understand the reasoning behind it – and as Qadhi ‘Iyadh states, her intelligence was demonstrated in that she did not challenge the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in a disrespectful manner, but spoke up in a firm yet appropriate way. Nor was her question criticizing the statement of the Prophet, but instead, she sought to further her own understanding of his statement.

In fact, her behaviour was the very embodiment of the verse:

{It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair.} (Al-Ahzab 33:36)
 Another interesting point that Qadhi ‘Iyadh makes is how the word ‘aql is defined and understood, especially in the context of this hadith. Only one definition is the widely translated and assumed one of "intellect," whereas he also mentions it as certain, specific types of knowledge, and excelling in having deep insight and being able to distinguish the true reality and nature of things.

The writer Azeez Muhammad Abu Khalaf further discusses the concept of "naaqis `aql" and how it is taken out of context in this hadith to imply something that has no evidence whatsoever either in the Qur’an or Sunnah – that is, the claim that women are intellectually inferior.

In the Qur’an, the word `aql is generally related not to intellect in and of itself, but rather, as a tool to push people into reaching a realization regarding Allah, the purpose of life, etc. so that they are motivated into working for their Hereafter. In the context of this hadith, the phrase is used in a similar manner – emphasizing the severity of the matter as a motivational tool, encouraging the women to give in Sadaqah and increase in their Istighfaar.

Furthermore, when the Prophet clarified the "nuqsaan" and their causes, they are issues that are purely Shar’i rules: the issues of testimony, prayer, and fasting.
The matter of testimony falls under `aql as it is not a ritual act of worship, whereas salah and fasting are acts of worship and therefore deeni.

Even those who try to argue that women are inferior because their testimony equals only half that of a man’s, are ignoring the fact that the Qur’anic ayah says simply {so that one can remind the other.} (Al-Baqarah 2:282) There is no mention whatsoever of inferiority in any other way, especially with regards to intelligence, either in the Qur’an or the Sunnah.

 With regards to the details of a woman’s testimony, it must be known that it is not a blanket ruling applicable to any and all situations. It must also be understood that there are cases wherein a man’s testimony is rejected completely; for example, in matters such as childbirth, breastfeeding, and so on. In other cases, a woman’s testimony can be considered equal to that of a man’s. However, the details of these situations is beyond the scope of this article, and a discussion of fiqh in and of itself.

 Abu Khalaf goes on to point out that those who try to use the hadith to demean women are actually missing out a significant aspect of the hadith itself – how could the woman mentioned be described as "jazlah" if  the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was actually telling women that they are NOT intelligent?

 As for the second half of the hadith (aghlabu li dhee lubbin minkun), which has been translated in varying degrees of similar negative connotations, it is an example which highlights the power of words.

The word ‘ghalaba’ in Arabic means ‘to defeat, to prevail, overpower, to overcome, to subdue’ – basically, to have power over someone. It is a word with connotations of power and influence, of superiority, as it were.

Translations such as "robbing the wisdom of the wise," "swaying the intellect of the most resolute of men" etc. give a demeaning impression to imply that women are deceptive, cunning, and manipulative.

Yet – just as easily, and perhaps much more accurately – it can be translated as women being able to outwit and outsmart men... which, in turn, highlights that women are not, in fact, lacking in or inferior when it comes to the intellect. After all, how could someone stupid be able to outsmart "dhee lubbin" – a very intelligent man, a wise man, a resolute man?

Some explanations of this hadith, including that of Qadhi ‘Iyadh, mention that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) uttered this statement as a compliment – one of surprise, and positivity.
Another interesting point made is that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was addressing the women of the Ansar, who were known for being outspoken, intelligent, and on an equal footing with their men – in contrast to the people of Makkah, where the men were used to being domineering over their womenfolk. Thus, the Prophet was expressing how impressed he was by the fact that these women were so easily able to match wits with men, despite being physically weaker than them.

One very important thing to note about this hadith – and how it has been incorrectly translated and explained – is that this incident took place during the morning of ‘Eid, an occasion for joy and celebration. It is inconceivable that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would say something deeply offensive or meant to hurt or be harmful to those whom he was speaking to (in this case, the believing women). It is known that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke in the best of ways, in the most eloquent, and that when he spoke to the believers, it was always in a manner that would motivate them to grow closer to Allah, not more distant.

Unfortunately, this point is almost never considered in English explanations of the hadith, thus making it seem even more negative towards Muslim women.

Finally, if women were indeed inferior in intellect – then how on earth would any woman be accepted as a scholar of Islam in any capacity? If women are inferior in intellect, then how could they be entrusted with the most important type of knowledge – that of Islam itself – and possibly endanger the souls of Muslims throughout the world?

Obviously, this is not the case. From A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), Hafsah, Zainab bint Abi Salamah and others, to shaykhaat today, women have been entrusted with the Sacred Knowledge of Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his male Companions fully recognized, acknowledged, and valued the worth of women, their intellect, and their contributions to the Ummah.
Perhaps one of the greatest evidences regarding Muslim women and their intellectual influence is the quote of Imam adh-Dhahabi – that he had never come across a female hadith transmitter accused of forgery (muttaham) or abandoned due to a high degree of unreliability (matruk)[2]. As a formidable figure in the field of hadith, and specifically in al-Jarh wa Ta’deel, these words of Imam adh-Dhahabi are significant and meaningful.

In short, it is enough to know that this hadith does not, in fact, provide any evidence or even imply that women are intellectually inferior in any manner. Rather, what this hadith does is recognize and point out that {the male is not like the female.} (Aal-`Imran 3:36)

Whereas the women were first cautioned regarding their own behaviour, and reminded of their differences in specific aspects of the Deen (giving testimony, praying, and fasting) the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also acknowledged that men, too, were not perfect.

He pointed out that even "dhee lubbin" (the most intelligent of men) are capable of having their wits matched by women. Whereas there are many men who feel insulted or offended at the idea of a woman outsmarting them or proving herself to be intellectually superior, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned it as a fact.

Allah has created men and women as partners, complementing each other in every way – whether intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. The Qur’an and Sunnah emphasize that men and women were created to asssist each other, and were both given duties and responsibilities to fulfill in obedience to Allah. Neither was created superior or inferior to the other, but rather, were designated as responsible "shepherds" – as the hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) clearly states:

"Every one of you is a guardian, and responsible for what is in his custody. " (Al-Adab al-Mufrad)
In the case of the hadith "naqsaan ‘aql wa deen," there are many of those who try to argue that this hadith is evidence of women’s inherent "deficiency" and inferiority, and will go on to exaggerate the "weakness" of women.

However, as we have already stated, there is absolutely no evidence in the Qur’an and Sunnah to support these claims. As human beings, men and women are held equally accountable in the Sight of Allah, responsible for using their intellect to distinguish between good and evil, and to act accordingly.

A more appropriate translation of this hadith, then, could be the following:
"Despite your incompleteness in 'aql and deen, I have never seen anyone more able to triumph over a man of (great) intelligence"
 Thus, we can see the power of words, positive connotation, and the absolute necessity of having a holistic understanding of the words of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him).
In reading this hadith – and others which have either been mistranslated or explained in a biased manner – it is necessary for us to always have Husn adh-Dhann (thinking well) of Allah and His Messenger.

Allah is the Most Just, the Prophet was a mercy to mankind - we can never, ever forget that. Should we allow ourselves to think otherwise, to assume that the Qur'an and Sunnah contain injustice in any way, is a victory of Shaytan over us, who strives to make us despair or doubt the perfection of Islam.
It is also an important reminder to us of the power of words. Sadly, mistranslations and harsh (mis)explanations have been directly responsible for causing all kinds of spiritual trauma, especially in relation to Muslim women.

While we cannot directly accuse translators and writers of deliberately trying to cause harm, we do have to recognize the very real consequences and effects that those words and interpretations have upon the Ummah. Whether it is deliberate on the part of the translators and writers or merely irresponsible translating is not for us to judge, although it is imperative for us to recognize and to challenge the consequences of these translations and interpretations.

May Allah make us amongst those who seek the truth and find it, and are given not only knowledge, but wisdom and understanding of His words and His Deen, ameen.

[1] Azeez Muhammad Abu Khalaf, Wujuh al-I`jaz fi Hadith  Naqisat `Aql,
[2] Mizan al-I`tidal, Fasl: fi al-Niswa al-Majhulat

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More Than Just A Teacher

The issue of puberty and sex education is a contentious one in the Muslim community. For the last several generations (at the very least), Muslim cultures have made sex a taboo subject and it is rare to find, even today, Muslim parents who discuss these issues openly, honestly, and positively with their children.

Unfortunately, this has created a toxic and dangerous environment for Muslim youth - one where discussing even the basic facts of life is not just uncomfortable, but nearly impossible to do with one's parents or other Muslim elders. As a result, we find youth who get their sex ed from unsavoury sources instead... kids at school, social media, and pop culture; all of which put forth unhealthy attitudes regarding sexuality - in fact, most of the beliefs and attitudes taught are in direct contradiction to Islam.

Yet how can we blame the youth for seeking out this (mis)information, when we - the adults - are the ones at fault? How can we blame kids for not knowing and understanding the basic rulings of puberty, of tahaarah, of sexuality, when we're the ones who have failed to teach them from the beginning?

The Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions was very different when it came to teaching the youth – and the adults – around them about puberty, sexuality, and related issues.
Previously, I have written about the story of Umayyah bint Qays, who got her first period while accompanying RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) on a journey, and how he dealt with that situation.

There is another narration that deals with the flip side – a young man who had just reached puberty, going to a woman, and asking about a relevant ruling.

'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Aswad narrates:

"My father used to send me to A'ishah and (as a child) I used to go to her (i.e. beyond the curtain). When I became adult (i.e. reached puberty; became baaligh), I came to her and called to her from behind the curtain: "O Umm al-Mu'mineen, when does the bath become compulsory?"
She said: "So, you have done it, O Luka'! And (in answer to the question), when the private parts conjoin."

(Al-Dhahabi in Siyar A'lam an-Nubala)

This narration demonstrates a very unique relationship – that of a young boy and an unrelated (non-Mahram) woman. Although ‘Abd al-Rahman first spent time with A’ishah when he was a pre-pubescent boy, he didn’t cut off his relationship with her as soon as he reached puberty… nor was he shy or embarrassed to approach her immediately.
In turn, from A’ishah’s response, it is evident that she was fond of him, and that their relationship was close enough that she teased him gently about becoming a man according to the Shari’ah. SubhanAllah!

How many Muslim youth – boys and girls alike – feel comfortable enough to approach an elder of the same gender, let alone of the opposite sex? How many of them feel that they won’t be scolded or treated harshly, but rather showered with affection and treated with kindness? The importance of ‘safe spaces,’ of individuals whom youth can trust regardless of whether they’re family or not, cannot be overstated.

One would expect that A’ishah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), the Mother of Believers, the ultimate scholar of her time, would be far too busy with more important matters than to teach young children, let alone develop a safe, trusting relationship with them. Instead, she devoted her time and effort to creating this type of relationship not just with young girls, but young boys such as ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn al-Aswad.
Building and maintaining such a relationship isn’t a one-off thing; it requires long-term investment and true, sincere interest in the life of young children as they grow up and go through numerous challenges and growing pains. It requires being there for them through thick and thin, proving to them that we care about them, and will be there in a supportive manner through even the most awkward of stages.

Sadly, many Muslim adults feel uncomfortable to build that kind of relationship with youth who aren’t their own children, let alone discuss sensitive issues like sexual education. But then – how can we ever expect them to trust us and learn about those very important matters from an Islamic perspective? We need to be more than just teachers who provide sterile facts and dire warnings; we need to be sources of safety, security, and reassurance.

It is time for us to recreate an Islamic environment for our youth: one where talking about puberty and sex isn’t a shameful thing; one wherein a young girl can get her period for the first time around a non-Mahram male, and feel safe with him; and a young boy can admit to a non-Mahram woman that he has reached puberty, and feel comfortable doing so.

When we’re finally able to talk to our youth about puberty, sex, and all that it entails, in a manner that is appropriate and comfortable, we will finally be able to raise a generation of Muslims who understand both the beauty and responsibilities of physical maturity – a generation of Muslims who will, in turn, be ready to step up and be heroes and heroines in their own right.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Reinforcing Gender Injustice & Radical Change From Within

Domestic violence, sexual harassment and abuse, misogyny in all its forms – whether in the East or the West, Muslim or non-Muslim, all these diseases are alive and well in our societies.

“Women shouldn’t be dressing a certain way if they don’t want to be attacked”; “Sometimes a mouthy woman just needs to be disciplined in order to learn her lesson”; “Men are just like that, we can’t change who they are.”

These are all common variations of the basic argument of “well, this is life, just deal with it”… but that is simply not acceptable, no matter where in the world you live.
The sad truth is that amongst Muslims as well as non-Muslims, the various diseases that arise from ingrained misogyny in our various cultures is quite often perpetuated and encouraged by women themselves. Misogyny is something that is quickly and oft-identified within men, but recognized much less within women – after all, how is it that there are women who look down on themselves, who see themselves as less than their male counterparts?
Whatever the origins of internalized misogyny amongst women may be, the most dangerous consequence is that many women will pass on their unhealthy attitudes about gender roles, sexuality, and more onto both their daughters and their sons.
From infancy, we laugh off a young boy insistently pushing a little girl around as “boys will be boys,” yet are quick to scold if a little girl shows signs of aggressiveness. We rarely – if ever – teach our sons about hayaa’ (modesty), respect, lowering the gaze, and spiritual chastity the way we fanatically tell our daughters to cover up and be quiet. We allow our sons to raise their voices – and sometimes their hands – to us, yet discipline our daughters immediately if they ask a single question. We keep our daughters close to us at home yet allow our sons to run wild in the middle of the night, teaching them morality is something restricted to women (wa’l iyaadhu billah). We criticize our daughters for not covering their heads in their own homes amongst their mahaarim, and allow our sons to go out in public wearing tight fitting or inappropriate clothing, conveniently forgetting that RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was ‘more modest than a virgin girl.’
We women – and the men in our lives – are the ones directly responsible for raising entire generations of boys and girls, men and women, who have a warped and twisted idea of what morality is, of what it means to be men and women.

In doing so, we have perverted and destroyed the very idea of hayaa’ (modesty) and ‘izzah (honour and dignity) in Islam. A woman’s honour doesn’t come from being held prisoner in her own home or conforming to bizarre cultural norms of femininity; a man’s respect doesn’t come from him oppressing the women around him and abusing his power in order to make himself feel good. The honour, respect, and dignity of each and every Muslim lies in their subservience to Allah, their fulfilment of His Commands, and their refusal to accept oppression and injustice in any aspect of their lives.
{ You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.} (Qur’an 3:110)
In the hypsersexualized global village we live in today, we need to teach our sons and daughters from a very young age what it means to have respect for others of the same and of the opposite gender – regardless of what they are or are not wearing.
Teach our sons as well as our daughters that ‘awrah is about more than the actual physical private parts; it is about understanding that others’ bodies are not objects that we are entitled to, but that Allah is Ever-Watchful and that we need to respect ourselves first and foremost by not allowing our eyes, our tongues, and our limbs to see, speak, or touch that which is prohibited.
RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: "Emaan (belief) consists of more than sixty branches. And Hayaa’ (modesty) is a part of faith." (Bukhari)
He also said: “Every religion has a (distinct) characteristic and the characteristic of Islam is modesty.” [Ibn Maajah]

It is imperative that we tie in every single value we teach our children to the most precious of all values: Taqwa. All that we do, all that we are, goes back to how much we love our Lord and wish to please Him.

Part of that endeavor to please Allah and protect ourselves – and our societies – is to strive for Ihsaan (excellence) in every way.
The Qur’an describes Muslim men and women in the following terms:
{The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Qur’an 9:71)
The only way to raise an Ummah of believers who embody this verse, is to raise our children from a young age to believe in the standard of Ihsaan – excellence – and hold themselves to it, especially with regards to how they deal with the opposite gender.
{Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.
And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts…} (Qur’an 24:30-31)

Sexual harassment is a very real problem amongst Muslims, one which – until now – has been allowed to continue due to the very unhealthy attitudes we have been raising our children with.
By returning to the Qur’an and Sunnah, by teaching our sons and daughters while they are still extremely young about the importance of Taqwa, Ihsaan, and Hayaa’, then and only then will we finally be able combat this disease (amongst others) in our Ummah.
We cannot insist that all our gender-related problems will go away if women just sit at home and cover up and remain silent and motionless. Rather, we must know that the condition of our Ummah will never change until we return to the Words of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and radically change our attitudes to match the values taught within them, instead of trying to twist the Divine Words to fit our own warped mentalities.
Change starts within our own homes, and starts today. Sit down with your sons and your daughters, no matter how old they are, and have a much-needed discussion with them about what it means to respect themselves and others of the opposite gender. Teach them, truly, what it means for the believers, men and women, to be allies of one another.